LONDON (AP) — After only a day back with the Brazil squad, Luis Felipe Scolari already senses it will be more fun this time.
Although expectations are rising back in Brazil ahead of the 2014 World Cup, Scolari is shrugging off the pressure on him to deliver the country's sixth world title. After all, the 64-year-old manager has been through it all before: Winning the World Cup and leading a national team at a home tournament.
Brazil's fifth world title came with Scolari at the helm in 2002, and he was re-hired after a decade away to provide the experience and familiarity required by the federation for the World Cup on home soil.
"I can't imagine any reason I shouldn't be given a second chance," Scolari said on Tuesday through a translator on the eve of his first match back in charge, against England. "It's a similar position to 2003," he added, referring to leading Portugal into the quarterfinals at a home European Championship the following year. "It's about gathering people behind us."
The quest to win the trophy in the Maracana in July 2014 begins for Scolari on Wednesday in another of the world's iconic stadiums, Wembley, with the friendly against England. Despite spending just one day with the players, Scolari has high hopes — even if it was a struggle to convey his optimism due to a sore throat.
"The atmosphere is a lot lighter, a lot more fun with the players nowadays ... because 10 years ago there were a lot more expectations," he said. But there will be no excuses if Brazil loses to England for the first time in 23 years. Especially with the majority of the squad already capped.
"It's not a brand new team," Scolari said. "So I cannot justify to the Brazilian people that I've only had one training session and that's it." Scolari is coaching in England for the first time since being fired by Chelsea in 2009 after just eight months. His biggest regret was rejecting the chance to succeed Sven Goran-Eriksson as England manager because he would have needed to sign up before the 2006 World Cup — while contracted to Portugal.
"It hurts a lot because I would have loved to have been the manager of the England team. Who wouldn't? It's a wonderful national team," Scolari said before adding with a smile, "Who knows what will happen? One day, maybe."
The mission now is with Brazil after replacing Mano Menezes, who was fired in November because the federation didn't like his methods. Veteran forward Ronaldinho insists Scolari hasn't lost any of his hunger.
"I don't think there's any danger with such an experienced manager who knows the way to victory," Ronaldinho, who won the World Cup with Scolari in 2002, said through a translator. "And I think we ought to be very glad with that."
Perhaps it's no surprise to hear Ronaldinho so warmly embracing Scolari's return. The Atletico Mineiro player, who had a successful career in Europe, is back in the squad a year after making his last appearance having expected to remain in international exile.
Scolari wants to combine the experience of the former Barcelona, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain star with young talent like Neymar. "(Ronaldinho) is 32 years old but he has played a spectacular season in Mineiro," Scolari said. "He has shown a marvelous effort. Now it's going to be up to him to prove I have taken the right decision to cap him once again and he will have to show how quickly he can integrate into this team.
"I don't think it makes any difference he is 32 — look at Neymar, who is 21." In fact, The Santos forward turned 21 on Tuesday, and is already ranked by Scolari as one of the best players in the world alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
"There is a great evolution with his tactical ability," Scolari said. "My role is to appreciate him ... and help him to develop to be even better." England's most exciting young talent is also 21, and Jack Wilshere is set to start for his country on Wednesday for the first time since June 2011 following a series of injury problems.
England coach Roy Hodgson, though, is "anxious" about building up the Arsenal player's abilities. "Jack is a player who carries a huge weight of responsibility at a young age," Hodgson said. "I hope everyone is going to understand he is still a young man ... I wouldn't like to see him have to take a backward step because all of a sudden his name is being put forward as the savior of the English football team."
At the other end of the age scale, Ashley Cole will make his 100th appearance for England, whose fans have often jeered the defender following some much-publicized incidents off the pitch. "If you are an England fan and don't respect or love someone for doing that, then that's your problem and not his," Hodgson said.
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris